BONE FISHING ADVENTURE
My brother Ted has been talking for years about how he and I and our other brother Kevin should get together for a bone fishing trip to the Florida Keys. This was the week that we finally all did it. On Tuesday the two of them flew into West Palm Beach, where I picked them up at the airport. The three of us then drove the 200 miles down to Marathon, about halfway out on the keys. We spent the next two days out on the flats, sight fishing for bonefish, permit, and tarpon. We had two guide boats between the three of us and most of the time Teddy, a fly-fisherman, was in a boat by himself while Kevin and I, fishing live shrimp, were together in the second boat. The weather was warm & sunny, but it was also very windy, and this prevented us from getting out to the "back country" areas that our guides would have preferred. As a result, the fishing was somewhat slow, but each of us did have at least a couple of opportunities each day. These are very unforgiving fish though, as we learned, and you only get one or two casts before you lose your opportunity. Between the wind making casting accuracy difficult, and our inexperience with this type of fishing in general, none of us managed to capitalize the first day on any of the opportunities we had.
Conditions the second day were much the same, but one time I did get lucky enough to keep my shrimp from flying off the hook while landing a cast right in front of an unsuspecting bonefish. He couldnít resist. He grabbed it and ran. Now my brother Ted had been describing this moment to Kevin and I, non-stop it seems for the last 48 hours, citing statistics which included the "break speed" of various fishes. This he explained is the speed at which a fish takes off away from the boat once he realizes heís been hooked. The break speed for trout, for which Teddy fishes mainly, is in the area of four miles-per-hour; for an Atlantic Salmon around eleven mph; and heís been needling me about the break speed of a bass, which he alleges is perhaps only two or three mph. Heís been telling us these numbers, drilling them into us, and making sure we realize that the break speed of a bonefish is in the neighborhood of 22 mph. If weíre not prepared for that break when it happens, he warns, then itíll be all over before we know what hit us. Well, Iím here to tell you that the experience is everything Teddy said it would be. The bonefish I caught was only two or three pounds, but still it was quite a thrill to be fighting a fish that swims so fast, and that strips 100 feet of line out of your reel in the blink of an eye.
We spent the next 6 hours searching for, but not finding, any more of the elusive bonefish. The small (three foot long) sharks on the other hand, were abundant and provided both Kevin and I action throughout the day. Finally at about four oíclock we stopped and anchored at our final spot, and threw out a bit of chum. It wasnít long before a few smaller fish, mutton snapper I think they were, began to appear, and behind them came one large ray. Captain Joe, our guide, quickly said "Throw at the ray! Sometimes a good fish will follow along right behind a ray." I was ready, and fired off a cast that landed right in front of the ray, and sure enough out from behind the ray darted a big, aggressive fish. I was jigging the shrimp right up near the surface, making sure the fish could see it, when all of a sudden it charged forward and practically leapt right out of the water to attack the shrimp! Capín Joe was even more excited than I as he exclaimed "Ohhh! A big permit, you lucky dog, you!" Well if I thought that bonefish was exciting earlier, this was something else entirely. Where that bonefish was fast, this fish was both fast and strong, and utterly tireless!
Iíd been very open-minded over the past two days, insisting to these guides that while I was a professional fisherman myself, I knew nothing about flats fishing and I would do everything they say, just the way they say it, instead of pretending I knew already what I was doing. The only exception was my insistence upon using my own equipment. I was using out here a 7 foot medium action graphite rod, a Shimano Chronarch baitcasting reel, and 30 pound test Spiderwire braided line. Normally my reels are filled with backing line three-quarters of the way, with only 30 or 40 yards of "fresh" line on top of that. This 30 or 40 yards has been more than adequate for every bass I have ever caught. At Teddyís suggestion the other night though, I had filled this entire spool with fresh line, perhaps 200 yards of it, and Iím sure glad I did.
The permit I was now fighting decided to really put my equipment to the test. Twice during the 20 minute fight I had to tell Capín Joe that I was in fear of running out of line on my reel, so heíd better go after this fish with the boat. At the same time, the action in the boat was made even more exciting by the fact that periodically during the fight a group of three or four other permit would dart into the action to find out what was going on. My brother Kevin, though he didnít catch one, at least got to throw a few times at some aggressive permit right up close to the boat. When finally I got my fish subdued and hoisted into the boat, it weighed right around 13 pounds. Iíll tell you though, it fought like it was a hundred! What a thrill, and now Iíve got another memory I can keep for a long time.
Thereís one more piece to this story. Halfway through my fight with the permit I joked to Capín Joe that, having already caught a bonefish, as soon as I finished with this permit we were going to go catch a tarpon, and thus complete what is known here as a "grand slam." Well, after boating, weighing and releasing the permit, we circled back to our chum area to see if there was anything else around, and sure enough there they were - two or three "baby" tarpon, about 25 pounds apiece. They were elusive, disappearing and reappearing perhaps 3 times before it was time for us to quit. While we didnít catch any, they were close enough to throw at a few times, and that in itself was a pretty exciting feeling. By the time we returned to the dock around 5:30 we were both salt-sprayed and sunburned, but we had plenty to talk about during our long ride home.
Anyone looking for a good flats guide when they want to go fishing in the Florida Keys would do well to contact Captain Joe Saladino at (305) 743-5268, or email him at Okajo@Marathonkey.com.
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